ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



The Fabled Doctor Jim Jordan

A Story of Conjure

 By F. Roy Johnson




Goofer Practice

LIMITED INTEREST was devoted goofer practice by Doctor Jordan, but it shows up throughout his long career. He made and bought red flannel bags, then packed them with goofer dust. This dust was used, in bags or loose, to turn back evil and to bring good luck.

A limited local demand for good luck and gambling bags continued until the doctor’s death. Much of the need had been met by conjure doctors of lesser fame, but Jim’s business increased when death thinned their numbers.

Bob Dozier of Winton specialized in goofer dust and good luck bags until his death April 23, 1948. He had a substantial patronage in Winton and nearby towns of Cofield, Union and Ahoskie. Several hundred woods working niggers lived in and about these towns. Women, liquor and gambling provided weekend recreation for many of them. Bob’s bags were especially helpful in charming the women and adding luck at cards and dice.

When Bob was laid to rest some of his patrons turned to the famed doctor at Como.

Amos Hall of Cofield cites the case of Bud Watford of Ahoskie. Watford visited Doctor Jordan each month “to renew the powder in my bag.” (Some conjure men restored conjure power by soaking the bag’s contents in whiskey.)

A BUSINESS MAN of Murfreesboro was assisted by Doctor Jordan and his goofering. The man faced legal difficulties during World War II, and he inquired of his good friend what defense measures he should take. The doctor set to work:

“I will do what I can for you,” he volunteered. “But before I can help you I gotta figure out how I can … first you gotta have faith.”

The doctor put a small piece of metal on his table, said, “If you’ve got faith, you can pick it up.”

I reached down to pick it up, but it moved to one side.

“Maybe I got something else I can help you with.” He placed a small disc on the table and cautioned, “Take it real slow.”

That thing slipped right out from beneath my fingers in another direction.

“This is getting bad; looks lak I’m not going to be able to help you … I just got one more thing.” He pulled a small red flannel bag from his desk drawer. “This is a real old time bag of herbs. If you can pick it up, I’m sure I can help you.”

The bag remained put and I picked it up easily.

“Now I tell you what to do. You put this in your shirt pocket and don’t you come out of the house without it…” He picked up a second bag and said, “Now, I’m going to put this other one just like it in my pocket. When your time of trouble comes I’ll be in touch with you.”

It must have worked. I got out of trouble. Afterwards I opened my bag. It contained a brown powder that smelled like snuff.

BETTY WOOD visited Doctor Jordan in 1961 and wrote of him in “The Raleigh Times.” Passing through Northampton and Hertford counties to his place she learned everybody had heard of him. The observant feature writer reported:

“Sure I’ve heard of Jordan,” a filling station man said. “Pulled one of his logging trucks in for him one time.”

The filling station man said he sent Jordan a bill, “but I never did hear anything from him. So I stopped by there one day, and Jordan said he remembered, but never liked to pay a man except to his face.”

Jordan told his girl to get some cash out of the desk and the girl opened a drawer just brimming with money.

“Aren’t you afraid somebody’ll come in here and steal that money?” he asked her.

“Naw suh,” she replied. “Ain’t nobody who’d come in Mr. Jordan’s house and steal money.”

“No siree,” said a man in a Murfreesboro restaurant. “They’d rob a bank before they’d rob him. He’s the smartest devil you ever saw.”

On down the road a logging truck was pulling over in front of a group of little houses. One house resembled a country store.

“Mr. Jordan’ll be in there,” a three legged dog hobbled out from behind a shed and wagged his tail.

“Mr. Jordan here?” we asked.

“Yea. On back there,” a boy pointed to a room where two women and a man stood around washing tubs full of clothes.

“Through that door,” one of them directed, appearing accustomed to strangers walking through.

On the other side of the door was a room painted “shoutin’ pink” with a green leading to another room. A man sat on a battered sofa trying to look inconspicuous. He wasn’t Jordan, but he was waiting to see Jordan.

The green door soon opened.

“Which one of ya’ll is next?” she asked.

We said he was and he said we were. Then we both insisted and he went in.

We waited and listened to the people in the washing room laugh and carry on.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” said one man. “I shall not want. But I know what I wants and I’m gonna take it.”

They all laughed. Finally the door opened and nobody was next bus us.

“Mr. Jordan?” we asked.

A slow talking Negro man looked up. He appeared to be in his late 50’s. He was wearing a brown felt hat in the house and a red plaid shirt. He offered us a seat.

We began a “made-up” story about letting a gardner go and every morning since that time there had been a peculiar dust on the front porch.

The maid hadn’t been able to sleep or eat, claiming somebody’d cast a spell on her. So, we had come to see what could be done to break the spell.

Jordan looked like he had a good mind not to believe us. Then he picked up a crystal ball and squinted at us through it.

He leaned back in his chair, asked a few questions, then he said solemnly as a superior court judge, “Somebody’s after your maid’s job. That’s exactly what it is.”

“But how do you break the spell?”

Jordan thought a minute, then he said slowly, “I’ll tell you what you do. Next time you find any dust, take a broom and sweep it three steps backwards. Then turn the broom tail up.”

“Is that all?:

“That’s all.” 

“Will it work?:

“Sure it’ll work. Why won’t it work?”

We couldn’t think of a good reason right then nor afterwards either. We asked if we didn’t need a goofer bag,” but he said he didn’t believe in those things.

“Well,” we said, “Do we owe you anything?:

The old man looked straight ahead with a dead pan expression wiped across his face and said sullenly “fi’ dollars.”

Now “fi’ dollars” seemed like an awful lot to be told to turn a broom “tail up,” but we paid him and left.

Back in town (of Murfreesboro) the police chief (W. T. Liverman) said, “Always found Jordan to be a straightforward man. Very religious.”

“Yes,” we thought. “and fi’ dollars richer too.”

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Some Notes  of Clarification

JIM MADE CONJURE DUST during his early practice, and it shows up at times throughout his career. Some folks called the potent powder goofer dust, other gummer dust. The dust was red or brown and smelled like snuff. Jim was a chain snuff dipper, and some folks ventured the dust was snuff mixed with other ingredients. The stuff was either sprinkled about in prescribed fashion or packed into a goofer-bag. (“Hard Twenty Years”).

Source: F. Roy Johnson • The Fabled Doctor Jim Jordan • © Copyright 1963 •Johnson Publishing Co.• Murfreesboro, N. C.

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Goofer Dust is a very old African-American hoodoo curio used to trouble, harm, or kill an enemy. In particular, it can cause the victim’s legs to swell up and medical doctors will not be able to effect a cure. Recipes for making it vary, but it is almost always a mixture of simple natural ingredients, usually including Graveyard Dirt, powdered sulphur (which can give it a yellowish colour) and salt. Subsidiary ingredients may include powdered snake heads or snake skin “sheds,” red pepper, black pepper, powdered bones, powdered insects or snails, and greyish, powdery-surfaced herbs such as mullein and sage. In the past, some formulas for Goofer Dust included anvil dust, the fine black iron detritus found around a blacksmith’s anvil. A modern substitute for this now-uncommon ingredient would be magnetic sand, which is also black in colour.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 23 June 2008



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Related File: Conjuring & Doctoring